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New snacks debut at Knoxville FairNEWLN:Will Petro, Skinny Dipper achieve fame of test dog, cone at 1904 St. Louis fair?

By STEVE HOLLAND

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The invention of the ice cream cone and the hot dog on a bun are generally credited to concessionaires at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

A couple of specialties at the 1982 Knoxville World's Fair could eventually become as popular as those two typically American foods.

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Petros are the brain child of Joe Schoentrup, a former airline ticket agent from Spokane, Wash. A Petro is a bag of corn chips smothered with chili, sour cream and green onions.

Skinny Dippers are potatoes devoid of everything but their skin, then fried and covered with cheese, bacon, chili or what have you. They were developed by two young mothers, Ellen Sutley, 37, and Nancy Cannon, 35, former neighbors in Knoxville, who spent three years trying different potato skin combinations.

When Mrs. Sutley's husband was transferred to Atlanta two years ago, the women decided to continue with their experiments.

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The results are three types of snacks: The Tom Sawyer, with bacon and cheddar; the Nachos Queen, chili and cheddar; and the Marco Twain, pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese. Each comes with a sour cream dip.

With the fair less than two months from closing, their business is debt-free, Mrs. Sutley said.

'All aspects of this project have been new experiences for us - like securing the contract with the fair, borrowing our venture capital, developing the product, hiring employees and obtaining vendors,' she said.

'The fair has given both of us a once-in-a-lifetime chance both professionally and personally.'

Mrs. Cannon said they want to continue in the fried potato skin business but have had no offers yet.

'We are looking into all options, including going to the New Orleans fair, possibly franchising in the private sector malls, for example.'

Schoentrup says he has no job between fairs at the moment and hopes to become a full-time Petro maker.

'We'd like to participate in the New Orleans World's Fair in 1984 and in the Vancouver, British Columbia exposition in 1986. We are also conducting a feasibility study to decide whether we should undertake a franchising operation,' he said.

Schoentrup originally quit his airline job to become a concessionaire at the 1974 World's Fair in Spokane. His wife, Carol, quit her job as a lab technician to sell Petros at the Knoxville fair.

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Petro is pronounced like petroleum, in keeping with the World's Fair energy theme. It comes with a spoon and is sold in regular and premium sizes. Mild and hot 'additives' and jalapeno peppers are available.

An unleaded Petro is a bag of plain corn chips.

'It's the bag that we're using that gives it some kind of gushiness that makes it taste like something between Heaven and a nice beach in Mexico,' says Schoentrup. 'Some people say it's like a taco in a bag. We've had a lot of fun with this.

'We've had so much inquiry that we've got what we call 'Petro freaks' all over Knoxville. They drive their cars around and send somebody to come into the fair and buy a few and drive off,' he said.

The Schoentrups enlisted his sister, Ann, and her husband, Mark Lawrence, also of Spokane, as partners.

Only Lawrence had prior experience in food sales. They worked up the concoction over a two-year span, with late-night discussions at the kitchen table.

Schoentrup said he may open a full-time Petro place in Knoxville after the fair closes Oct. 31. He said he might also try to sell them at the New Orleans and Vancouver fairs.

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'Maybe we've hit a ravine of gold here,' he said. 'Our following is tremendous. We had a girl in here this morning who said she was buying a Petro for a girl who got grouchy and grumpy if she didn't have one every day.'

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